Stacy Swiderski, Wonderul Machine
I’ve been in this industry for a few years now and am still surprised at how many photographers think print is dead, that it’s not worth it, or that clients just aren’t interested in seeing actual portfolios when you can simply email a URL or attach a pdf. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While we certainly live in a digital age and a commercial photographer’s web presence is the main introductory platform to their work and brand, it’s important not to overlook the benefits of having a professionally printed portfolio and using it as part of a complete marketing agenda.
The website is important, very important, but your brand shouldn’t stop there. Clients still like to see books, and they like to see great books that solidly represent a photographer’s brand and showcase their capabilities. Your book should be an extension of the work on your site, not a mere repetition of it. It should be well considered, show off your strongest, most commercially viable work, and present it all in a thoughtfully curated manner.
There are few reasons, actually:
1) While your website appeals to the widest audience of possible clients, simply because anyone can view it, your print portfolio is going to be the best way to tailor your work to suit an individual client’s needs. You can also bring along an iPad with additional content that will easily allow you to elaborate on a conversation or project that resonates with that particular client.
2) A print portfolio is a conversation piece. You can’t walk into a meeting empty-handed, or with just a few promo cards. Your printed portfolio is a chance to show the client something that they can’t see on their own. It’s an opportunity to share something tangible and reveal the experiences and backstories to your work.
3) The printed portfolio is the best way to escape the illuminated, back lit screen of digital media and make your work more tangible, accessible, and closer to reality. It’s a great way to show off your attention to detail, your commitment to your craft, and just how much you value your work. Most of all, it enforces your unique vision and style as a photographer—you know, those things that make you stand out from thousands of other photographers and help to define your brand.
Even if you’re not yet ready to schedule meetings and sit face to face with creatives at the agency you’re aspiring to work for, you can consider starting with portfolio review events like FotoWorks or Palm Springs Photo Festival (PSPF) Portfolio Reviews. At events like these, you can pay one price to get feedback from a wide array of industry professionals (and get picked up for a job if you’re lucky).
Your print portfolio should offer a decisive and concise collection of work that addresses the following key questions: What are your goals? What type of work would you like to be doing more of? And what type of clients would you like to work for? All of these answers should help you determine the work that you include in your book. And just like you pay attention to the way your website is organized and which work is emphasized there, you need to pay attention to the way your print book is sequenced and how it flows from one image to the next.
When it comes to selecting and composing the images in your edit, always start with your strongest, most commercially viable work. Then, focus on telling a story with the photos you choose and how they interact with each other. Maybe the narrative is literal and tells a story with lifestyle and adventure images sequenced according to the different seasons, or maybe it’s a visual story based on thematics like color, composition, or mood that play off from one image to the next. Just like any good edit (whether web or print), make sure there is a strong push and pull between images. In other words, make sure the depiction of space within each frame does not feel repetitive across multiple images in a sequence. You’ll also want to make sure that if you’re printing double-sided pages, your book spreads actually work as spreads and that those images make sense being placed next to each other. Lastly, only show what you need to. Be decisive about the work you include, and tailor it to the client’s needs when possible (screw post portfolios are great for this).
Below is a sample section from a print edit done for food photographer, Stephanie Mullins. Notice how the images placed next to each other work as full spreads:
Stephanie decided to have her portfolio printed on demand via AdoramaPix and chose a bright yellow linen for the cover, along with glossy, lay flat pages:
Your book does not need to be configured in the same way as your site, nor should it show off the exact same work. Show variety and images that coincide with one another. For example, maybe your site has the wide shot of the runner lacing up his sneakers for a marathon, while the print edit has the shallow close-up of the sun glistening off the sweat on his forehead. Or maybe your site has the overhead version of the table setting from a food shoot, and your print edit includes a pairing of a 30 degree and straight-on shot from the same set.
As a general industry rule, try to keep the book close to 30 spreads or less so that clients can comfortably view your book without having to rush through. If they like your work, and want to see more, they’ll be prompted to take another look at your site. Again, this is why it’s important that your print edit is an extension of your website, not merely a repetition of it.
When it comes to portfolios, there’s nothing worse than viewing strong work that is poorly printed. I’ve been to enough portfolio reviews and have seen enough books to tell you that the paper you’re using can make or break the strength of your work. Whether you’re printing on-demand books or inkjet prints from home, choose a paper with a wide color gamut, minimal tooth, and the right degree of brightness for your work. Also, think about the surface of the paper, and whether matte, luster, or glossy is going to be the best option for the style of your work. Keep in mind that while glossy paper may increase contrast and sharpness of your images, it’s also going to impart a reflective element that can oftentimes interrupt the viewing experience (much like plastic sleeves do). Whatever option you choose, just make sure it is in line with making your images look the best they possibly can.
You’ll also want to consider the size of your portfolio (think comfortable, practical, and easy to manage) and make sure that the size and orientation are conducive to the work you’ll be showing. Is the work primarily vertical? Horizontal? Are you going to pair up your verticals or keep them on separate pages? Will images be printed full-bleed or with borders? And if you’re going to be investing in a custom screw post book, you’ll want to make sure your paper can be printed double-sided and your materials (including the book itself) are acid-free for long term storage and stability. If you’re interested in simply using a presentation box, continue to pay attention to your edit, but also think about using a paper with a heavier weight that’s more rigid and suitable for hand viewing. Borders are also necessary with this type of presentation in order to prevent fingerprints from forming on the actual printed areas.
Here’s a look at Inti St. Clair’s screwpost book that she ordered from Pina Zangaro:
And Shawn Hubbard’s custom made portfolio and slipcase from Mullenberg:
Doing your research:
As you might have guessed, printing a portfolio can be quite an expense depending on the materials and vendors you choose to work with. And like most things in life, you get what you pay for. While it’s important to do your research and budget when it comes to investing in a portfolio, you should remember that it is an investment and should be treated as such. If you choose to have a print portfolio, it will be a key part of your brand and should be held to the same quality standards as all of your marketing materials. And because your portfolio is part of your marketing collateral, you should be looking at your marketing budget to finance it. It doesn’t have to cost you your entire marketing budget, but that’s where you should be looking to figure out your appropriate spending amount.
Recources to get started:
When photographers approach me looking for input on where to get started with printing a portfolio, I typically send over a list of resources I’m familiar with, along with a few recommendations and suggestions based on the style of the work they do. This last part is important because the book needs to be an extension of the photographer’s brand and fit well with the work inside of it. We have a list of resources listed on our site, but here are some of my primary suggestions to get you started:
For printed, on demand portfolios:
Asuka: Well established industry level printer, offering great quality for retail and commercial photography books
Adoramapix: Best for price and ease of use, plus they have a fast turn-around time and rush shipping options available
Artifact Uprising: A VSCO company that makes artful hardcover and softcover books – WM members have raved about them
Edition One Books: Great for truly custom books in single or multiple editions, printed at any size and page count
My Publisher: Offers larger sizes up to 15×11.5 and has great printing, with excellent dynamic range
Paper Chase Press: I’ve heard good things about them from other WM members
Blurb: At the forefront of the on-demand printing industry, and offers a wide range of paper choices for books and zines
Magclud: Originally owned by HP, now Blurb, great for zines and digest style books/promos
For custom, screw post style portfolios, we typically recommend these sources:
Mullenberg: By far the most beautiful, well-made books out there
Pina Zangaro: Affordable and customizable portfolios and boxes
Lost Luggage: Mid-level to high-end portfolios and presentation cases
Klo Portfolios: Rather new in the game, offering a wide selection of material and treatment options
IRIS Portfolios: A boutique company, used by quite a few of our members, with a modern approach to portfolio cases
If you’re familiar with any other resources and would like to chime in with your experience, feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section below, or shoot me an email. And stay tuned for Part 2 of this Expert Advice on print portfolio production, where we’ll be going over size and quality comparisons with pricing from the vendors mentioned in today’s article.
Want help editing and designing your portfolio? Give me a shout!